When Edmonton’s Paula Findlay finished the triathlon at the 2012 London Olympics, she was sobbing, bitterly disappointed in the dismal last place finish.
But on Saturday, when she crossed the finish line of the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final in her hometown, Findlay was sporting an enormous smile. She high-fived fans and waved at the adoring crowd that supported her over the two-hour race.
Findlay, 25, finished the triathlon in 15th place, two minutes behind winner Gwen Jorgensen of the United States.
“I am just so happy to have been able to finish that race,” Findlay said after the triathlon.
“There were deafening cheers. It was just so cool to hear ‘Paula, Paula, Paula.’ It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to race at a world championship in my hometown and I just tried to savour it. It was incredible.”
'I’m acting like I won the race, and I’m far off that, but for me it was a win for myself.' - Edmonton triathlete Paula Findlay
Findlay looked strong in the race, her first international appearance since the 2012 London Olympics. She said she hadn’t run 10 kilometres since 2012, and was pleasantly surprised by her fitness level.
“I’m acting like I won the race, and I’m far off that, but for me it was a win for myself,” Findlay said. “It’s just the first step in getting my confidence back and to getting back to winning. I believe I can do it now.”
Findlay said she had been considering going back to school, but has decided to continue racing throughout the fall. Finishing Saturday’s triathlon has restored the former world No. 1 hopes of representing Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I have had such a rough couple years and didn’t believe I could ever get back,” Findlay said.
“My pelvis was broken in May in two spots. I was sitting in my room in tears thinking, ‘I want to quit This is it. I can’t do this anymore. It’s too devastating and too hard. I can make progress in other areas of my life.'
"But I love it too much to quit. I stuck with it, changed coaches, got the best coach in the world Siri [Lindley] here with me, and I’m so happy.”
It wasn't a good day for the other Canadian racers as Kirsten Sweetland, ranked sixth in the world standings coming into the race, bowed out early in the cycling portion suffering from the flu and dropped out of the race after sitting in seventh exiting the swimming leg.
"I got sick on the bike," she said. "I raced with a bad head cold in Stockholm last week, but did fine. I got on a long-haul flight and showed up in Edmonton with a stomach flu and was throwing up all Sunday and Monday. I thought I had kicked it and thought I could still race. But there I was, losing my cookies on the bike.
"I really tried, but my body wasn't going to do it. It's disappointing. I haven't started a World Championships since 2010, so to get here structurally healthy, fit and ready, to have something out of your control happen like this is really hard. There is nothing I can do but try and pick myself back up. I am pretty good at that by now."
Sarah-Anne Brault, ranked 11th, dropped out following the swim.